British gangster flick Hard Tide claims to be based on a true story. Or is it just loosely inspired by one?
Set in Margate, which has reportedly been a gang “turf-war” crime zone, it’s quite possible the gang related details have been borrowed for the film. The story of the film is about Jake (Nathanael Wiseman also co-director/ writer) a small-time drug dealer and son of a Margate crime lord (Ralph Brown) who is being cajoled into a huge deal by his best friend Alfie (Oliver Stark) who he met as a kid growing up in care. A psychopathic crime boss from another gang (Mem Ferda) is interested in doing business with them and things head on from there. But the reason we ask how much of the film is based on a true story is because the central idea of the movie, about Jake meeting, befriending and helping Jade – a nine year old girl dressed in a superhero costume (Alexandra Newick) – is actually based on the graduation film by co-director/ writer Robert Osman which Wiseman also starred in.
Knowing this and watching the movie, with the weight of gangster flick cliché which sadly burdens it, the suspicion grows that this is based on a true story in the same way the Coen brother’s Fargo was – ie. not much. The Coen brothers added that title card to the beginning of the film because they wanted to make a film in the “true-story” genre, and although a couple of things in the film were inspired by things they’d read, it was a fiction.
Maybe it’s a moot point, but in the DVD extras the directors talk about how they developed the very different short graduation film My Hero (also included), about the unlikely friendship struck up between a guy in his twenties and a young girl, into the 80 minute length movie we see now.
And it’s a shame, because the gangster stuff is the weakest aspect of the movie. Dramatically it gives a structure to the story, but its depiction is not great. Unlike something like Ben Wheatley’s brilliant Down Terrace, which is a surprising and unusually different seaside crime story, this uses all the clichés like they were a tick-box list that needed checking off. The thing which marks Hard Tide out as different is the almost paternal/ elder sibling relationship between Jake and Jade, and the difficult and unexpected circumstances which arise from it. It’s here where the film transcends expectations.
Nathanael Wiseman and newcomer Alexandra Newick are great on screen together. There is a kindness and gentleness to these performances which makes them three dimensional. And this part of the storyline is by far the more interesting, with some fantastically dramatic and urgent moments. It gives the film a real heart. It’s a shame it’s overshadowed by the rest of the plot.
As a production the film should be congratulated for its tenacity. In getting made it’s done an incredible job of proving a committed set of filmmakers can get a movie made and distributed. It’s not just low budget, it’s micro-budget. And for the money available from the Kickstarter campaign which provided most of the funding, it looks great. There are some very nicely photographed sequences in the Margate sunshine and the aerial shots of the town presumably captured on a drone attached GoPro are well used.
The problem with a low budget film like this is that a limited shooting schedule results in lots of takes and scenes which are shot with full wide shot coverage but nothing else. Hand held and no close up. With several characters on screen at once there is no opportunity to cut and edit around timing and bad performance issues. As a result, where close-ups and reaction shots would work better, there’s nothing to use except the full take. Which is a shame, especially when there are weak links in the acting (as there are here). Oliver Stark and Mem Ferda appear to be acting in different films to everyone else and their mad-eyed over the top performances completely unbalance any scene they are in. Some of the dialogue is pretty ropy, the kind of overwrought shouty lines which do nothing but highlight how much better they would be unspoken. So many of those moments would work visually, on the faces of the actor for the audience to be trusted to understand. As for the editing, on the rare occasion an actor is cut to for a line in close-up or medium shot, you can almost sense them breathing in in anticipation and starting the take, which rather than continuing the flow of the scene makes things disjointed. Stuff like that doesn’t do the film any favours; it just makes it seem amateur rather than low-budget. When seasoned professionals Ralph Brown and Andy Lucas appear on screen they instantly outclass most of the other people in the scene. Of all of the other performers Nathanael Wiseman is the one who holds his own, he’s clearly someone to watch. And Alexandra Newick is charming as Jade.
So hats off to the team for getting the film off the ground, there is a lot of talent involved. It’s unfortunate that the completed film doesn’t play more to the strengths of the short it is based on. If it had played to those strengths it would have given all involved more of a chance to shine.
Hard Tide is out on DVD from Monday 9th May.